What do burgers have to do with gender?

Ever think that burgers have a big impact on gender? If not, author Carol J. Adams and her book, Burger, may open your eyes to such an issue. In the work, Adams brings up examples of many commercially successful selling burgers in a list; it starts with Thickburger, Whopper, Big Mac, Big Boy, Chubby Boy, Beefy Boy and Superboy, and concludes these tie together as an example of male-dominated society. These names are only a few from the list in her book. Adams states that as the burger business grew, so did the size of the burger and the gender associations with it.

Gender inequality is an important issue and must be taken into account; there are still women being treated unfairly in both social and business scenarios whether in regards to discrimination or harassment. Adams does not address these issues. Rather, she discusses the names and the methods for advertising a burger and how they discriminate against women. Despite how ridiculous it sounds (I haven’t the opportunity to read the book), I must admit, from reading Adams’ main points in the article, one could agree to what she says. But unlike in previous centuries, these problems can be easily fixed and are a fragment compared to bigger problems Adams could be combatting in terms of gender equality. However, instead of throwing the book back on the shelf as I leave the bookstore laughing and that being that, I have become intrigued by the role of gender in burgers.

Burger is the latest installment in the Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury publishing. The series is said to unveil “the hidden lives of ordinary things.” The other two previous titles in the series include Remote Control and Jet Lag. Adams brings up her arguments in these books as an animal rights activist and a feminist. In her book Burger, it’s said she brings up what this “everyday object” of a burger really is—an affront on animals and women. “The burger—minced, macerated, ground—is the renamed, reshaped food product furthest away from the animal.”

Adams writes about the gender issue as follows:

"Given the double entendre of big hamburgers standing in for erections, it is no surprise that some companies advertise their fare via women who can cram a hamburger, a Thick Burger, a Whopper, a Big Boy, etc., into their mouths. Carl's Jr. makes repeated use of this trope of a woman's mouth stuffed with burger... One advertisement for Hardee's demonstrated the size of their Monster Thickburger by showing a woman stuffing her fist into her mouth. Called 'Fist Girl,' it was dubbed 'BJ Girl' and 'Deep Throat' Burger on the web. These are not just fantasies of sex but of control and humiliation of women."

Adams takes into account how the lives of cows and women are affected through the true violent purpose of the burger. This effect involves the butchery of cows and women being perceived in a more sexual image for the burger chain’s benefit of business. If you haven't already noticed, the word burger is being said and not “ham” burger. This is because Adams also talks about the hidden politics in veggie burgers too, whose history, Adams explains, has "evolved side-by-side with the hamburger throughout the twentieth century."

Some more food history from Adams in the book gives us the cultural history of burgers, stating that even in 1885 before the official concept came into being, there were state fairs that gave out meatballs between two buns to crowds.  What's also interesting is that in the 1890s food inventors such as Kellogg and Post were preparing meatless foods with suit an, nuts and soybeans. Adams spins the uses of veggie burgers and ties it in with gender. Adams explains this in an email to the writer at NPR:

“There have been times more recently when the veggie burger ends up being gendered: An advertisement in the Vegetarian Times suggested that the great thing about a certain veggie burger was that one's husband would never know. This ad reinforced several assumptions about gender: 1) the wife was expected to cook, 2) the husband expected meat and 3) you should lie to your husband if you are feeding him a veggie burger(!).”

So what to have in the back of our heads is not only that veggie burgers save a handful of cows from becoming a food product on our plates but that we must take into account the gender inequality that comes from its advertisement. A fair point, but again, something that can be easily combatted in the 21st century (the gender aspect at least).  There are fairly more important issues out there concerning gender inequality, and it saddens me that however this may catch a glance of interest, the author has spent perhaps too much time on this work.


Joseph Frare is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joseph.frare@uconn.edu.